Ten things to know about the Herbert Hoover Dike and why Trump is weighing in

Politicians have fought for years over who should pay for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, but President Donald Trump has recently boosted the debate.

During his campaign, Trump expressed support for restoring “the beautiful Everglades” and repairing the aging dike, which protects Glades-area communities from flooding.

Here are 10 things to know about the dike and why repairing it has become a national issue:

  1. The Herbert Hoover Dike was built after the 1928 hurricane that killed as many as 3,000 people when a wall of Lake Okeechobee water washed over what was then a 6-foot pile of muck and sand piled up by locals in the Glades area.
Monument to the hurricane of 1928 in Belle Glade, Florida on October 15, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

2. Today, the dike is a 143-mile earthen dam managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which makes decisions on releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to limit breaches in the dike. The corps likes to keep the lake level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet. Higher lake levels increase concerns about dike failure.

3. In 2006, a state-hired panel of engineering experts warned the leak-prone levee around the lake poses a “grave and imminent danger to the people and the environment of South Florida.” In one worst-case scenario, Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay would be under 1 to 5 feet of water for weeks, and within days of a breach, floodwater could cross sugar cane fields and reach the edges of Palm Beach County’s western population areas.

Herbert Hoover Dike construction around Lake Okeechobee in 1955. These sections are at the S-2 pump station, between South Bay and Pahokee, where the North New River Canal and the Hillsboro Canal meet. (Photos courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

4. Various disaster scenarios have also said a dike failure could send water as far east as The Acreage and Wellington. On top of that, many in Palm Beach County would suffer from massive economic loss if crops in the Glades are flooded.

5. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 left deep gouges in the dike near Pahokee.

6.   Since 2008, about one in five corps dollars dedicated to dam safety nationwide has gone to the Herbert Hoover Dike. The corps estimates it has spent $870 million on shoring projects and expects to spend another $700 million in the next decade.

Damage to the Herbert Hoover dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee by hurricane Wilma on October 30, 2005. Portions of dike south of Pahokee were washed away by wave action during hurricane Wilma. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

7. There is debate about whether shoring up Lake Okeechobee to hold more water is a good thing for the environment. It could mean fewer harmful discharges into the Calooosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, which can cause algae blooms. But deeper lake water could also harm flora and fauna in the lake, including wading birds who can’t feed when lake levels get too deep.

8. Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants state lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget for dike repairs, but he said that’s not happening. The Corps estimates remaining construction at the dike will cost a little more than $800 million.  Based on projections, the Corps estimates that rehabilitation of the dike could be completed by the mid-2020s, “perhaps in the year 2025.”

The leaves of water-lilies (Nymphaea spp.) float on top of the water and are beneficial to Lake Okeechobee.

9. The dike holds back trillions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water. Lake Okeechobee’s name comes from the Seminal words for “big water.”

10. The Zora Neale Hurston book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” includes an account of the 1928 hurricane that “woke up old Okeechobee and the monster began to roll in his bed.”

A body lays in the muck after the 1928 hurricane that washed Lake Okeechobee waters over the then muck and sand dike.

Water heading south to save wildlife from drowning

The South Florida Water Management District is allowing 10,000 gallons of clean water per second to flow out of a water catchment area west of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to help save wildlife from drowning.

Gov. Rick Scott asked that the water be released into the Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park last week, but the request needed federal approval.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the request Monday because of the emergency situation, which includes the threat of deer drowning in the so-called Water Catchment area 3.

“WCA-3 is a foot above its regulation schedule,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander for the corps. “This action will allow us to get more water out of the conservation area and lower the water level.”

The Everglades Foundation supports the plan.

Last month was the wettest January on record for the 16-county region managed by the South Florida Water Management District.

More than 9 inches of rain fell districtwide, which is about 7 inches more than normal.

December’s rains were about 2 inches above normal districtwide but much higher in some areas, including coastal Palm Beach County, which received nearly 7 inches of rain — 3.73 inches higher than normal.

“The system is oversaturated with water,” said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. “I was out in the Sawgrass recreational area yesterday near Weston, and the sawgrass was covered. It looked like a lake. There were hardly any wading birds.”

John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers JacksonvilleDistrict, said in theory, releasing water into Everglades National Park would free up space in the water catchment area, which could then take water out of Lake Okeechobee.

That could help slow the releases out of the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Businesses and elected officials on both sides of the state say the billions of gallons a day being released from the lake are hurting their economies and local wildlife that thrives in the brackish water of the estuaries.

On Monday, the lake stood at 16.19 feet above sea level. That’s higher than the comfort level of between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet.

About eight thousand gallons per second of water flows through the South Florida Water Management District's Control Structure S-155 on Canal C-51 in Spillway Park east of Dixie Highway near the Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Fla. city limits on February 1, 2016. SFWMD is moving water to control canal levels after unprecedented rainfall in the last few months in south Florida. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
About eight thousand gallons per second of water flows through the South Florida Water Management District’s Control Structure S-155 on Canal C-51 in Spillway Park east of Dixie Highway near the Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Fla. city limits on February 1, 2016. SFWMD is moving water to control canal levels after unprecedented rainfall in the last few months in south Florida. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)